Pikas in Peril

Pikas in Peril

Above: A pika sounds the alarm near Lake Ann in the North Cascades (photo by Glenn Nelson)

The bottom line for promoting diversity and inclusion in the outdoors is imbuing the impending nonwhite majority in the U.S. with a sense of stewardship about our planet. If folks care about parks, for example, they are more inclined to commit to dealing with, say, climate change.

(NOTE: Clicking on an image will launch a larger-sized gallery).

To some, this is too intangible or theoretical a goal. And, for those, it’s sometimes best to put things in warmer, fuzzier terms.

Like, how about just saving the American pika?

Because of their increased accessibility, pikas easily could supplant the polar bear as the poster animal of the climate-change crisis.

Anyone who has hiked in any measure of altitude is familiar with the pika, if for nothing else than its distinctive call, “Eep!” The small mammals, related to the rabbit, lives in talus (larger rocks) fields in the subalpine and alpine West. The “rock rabbits” spend much of their time gathering vegetation that cures in their dens into “haypiles” for winter sustenance.

Pikas are pinned mostly above the treeline with nowhere to go. The photos on this page were taken in the North Cascades at about 5,300 feet and by Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, above 11,000 feet. In both places, the pika’s round body, thick brown fur and furry paws have adapted it to colder, moister high-altitude environments. In fact, the pika cannot survive as little as six hours in 75-77 degrees – because it cannot tolerate just a five-percent increase in body temperature – so it hardly can go lower.

And the pika cannot go up, where the harsher cold would be its undoing.

So as temperatures climb, pika habitat, as well as the animals themselves, are disappearing. Scientists have found that 28 percent of pikas in the Great Basin of Nevada have gone extinct, mostly at lower altitudes. The National Park Service is convening the Pikas in Peril Project to study impacts on habitat in eight national-park units (Craters of the Moon, Crater Lake, Great Sand Dunes. Grand Teton. Lava Beds, Lassen Volcanic. Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone).

Though studied for but not yet listed for Endangered Species Act protection, pikas nevertheless are considered an indicator species because their shrinking habitat is among the first, clear consequences of climate change.

Pikas in Peril